Thursday, March 29, 2007

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Morro Bay CA
For March 28, 2007

The Solar Dryer

It was an indulgence, really. A silly conceit. After 23 years of using a dryer, there I was, standing next to my neighbor Phil, an expert at all things concrete, staring at a hole in the ground, calculating a cunning base to support my new umbrella clothesline.

As a child raised in the desert, I knew nothing but clotheslines. What else? Electric and gas dryers were a shameless extravagance only indulged in by rich people with more money than sense. Everybody knew that the only way to dry clothes was to hang them out on the line to dry naturally and be returned to the basket filled with that smell of sun-spanked freshness, a smell that laundry soap makers would spend millions trying to duplicate in little tear-off dryer sheets for folks fool enough to use dryers in the first place.

As a child, my sister and I were assigned the Saturday morning job of hanging out the family laundry. It was a chore I either viewed as a whiningly unfair example of child slave-labor or, if Joan and I both got duty together, a chance for some shared sisterly secrets amidst the wet dresses and tired bath towels, far away from adult ears.

Eventually, when we pulled alternate weeks, I soon began to see real value in the opportunity I had to spend quiet, reflective time among the lines, carefully turning dresses inside out to keep them from fading, snapping the sheets smartly before hanging them as I’d seen my mother do with a practiced expertise I greatly admired. Sometimes I’d rush the whole operation, panties bunched together and drooping from one overstuffed clothespin, sheets hurled crookedly over the line, pillowcases slapped up in an effort to be done with the whole mess and so get free to scamper over the fence to go play with the neighbor kids.

At other times, if the weather was fine, the sun warm, and the breeze smelled of date tree pollen and the swooning scent of grapefruit blossoms, then it was a morning to dawdle, sorting the lines in precise groupings of sheets with sheets, then neat rows of pillow cases, followed by perfectly matched lines of socks, a Saturday morning Mondrian masterpiece moving in the breeze.

College life meant apartment living so clotheslines became a non-existent luxury. Instead, it was the Laundromat at 1 a.m. or a rush up and down stairs to the basement for the communal washer and dryer, quarters clattering in the coin box. But when we bought our first home, up went the line, snaking from avocado tree to avocado tree, and I was back to the familiar weight of the wet laundry-filled basket on the hip, the soft rattle of the clothespins as I rooted around in the clothespin bag, the sweet wooden taste of the pins that would invariably end up in my mouth, laundry hanging being an activity that regularly requires more than two hands.

When I moved to Los Osos, I fell away from my frugal desert ways and figured the damp marine environment required a dryer. And for 23 years, that became my washday reality. Yet here we were, Phil and I, staring at a hole in the ground, putting up a clothesline, a whimsical indulgence, a symbolic conceit that this pole will help save energy, thus Al Gore and I will save the planet one sock at a time.

But best of all, the clothesline has now become a welcome touchstone connecting past and present. Once again, there is the weight of the basket on my hip, the taste of the pins. Once again, there’s the quiet time reaching up to the sky to pin a bed sheet corner to the line, then a quick spin of the pole, another pin, then another. Instead of sweet date palm pollen, there is the tangy whiff of kelp when the tide’s low, and the sharp sweet smell of the eucalyptus trees. The umbrella pole is a cunning arrangement of square concentric rings, so hanging a load once again becomes a Saturday morning Mondrian masterpiece moving in the salty breeze; Sheets on the long lines, socks on the short.

And best of all, I get to snap the sheets smartly, just like my Mother did, with a practiced air of expertise, remembering to turn the dresses inside out so the sun won’t fade them.


Ron said...

Great piece, Ann.

As Bill Deneen says to wanna-be environmentalists:

"If you're not line-drying, then you haven't even started."

Ann wrote:

"... a symbolic conceit that this pole will help save energy, thus Al Gore and I will save the planet one sock at a time."

Here's an energy saving tip that I love, and use all the time: I lay out the hose so it's in the sun, and then fill up a watering can with the hot/warm water from the hose, then I pour it in the sink and use it to do dishes. Free, almost unlimited, hot water. Awesome.

Sally Ann said...

Hey Ann, another awesome essay. You have a grand talent for merging the mundane and the philosopical/spiritual worlds.

Subdivision convenents forbid clothes lines here in God's waiting room, Disney World edition (The Villages, Florida), but I have just gone and set up a portable clothes rack out in the birdcage screened porch and hung out shirts.

Another small effort towards saving the Earth. The ripple effect in action.

The kitty ladies are entranced - new toys to swat.

Anonymous said...

I have one too! When possible it's used and when it's in the way for the kids' pitching practice, it comes down and folded against the fence.
The methodical routine of it is comforting and I have to be reminded of that each time I think about hanging it all out to dry.
Maria M. Kelly

Anonymous said...

Ah the memories of the clothesline. Growing up in New York, I can still remember bringing in our clothes off the line in the wintertime, each sheet and shirt stiff as a board, and bendable to boot. And I still feel the pain of playing football in the backyard, only to run a passing route too far and getting, literally, clotheslined by the hard rubber lines, or worse, a black eye from hitting the damned pole itself. And the countless things to do with a clothes pin, the most utilitarian object ever invented. Thanks for the memories Ann. And I think I know just the place where we can put one in our backyard. I'm off to the store.....

*PG-13 said...

Another nice piece Ann. Yes, hanging clothes out to dry is much its own reward much like volunteering and prayer.

I too have fond memories of helping my grandmother hang the sheets and clothes out to dry in the summer sun. After washing them in one of the earliest open-topped Maytag wash tanks, putting them through a wringer to soak in a rinse sink while gently stirring them with a stick, then putting them through the wringer one more time (be careful, watch your fingers) before taking them to the line. My participation usually ended there and I was free to run off and play. Unless I was called to help bring it in before the afternoon thunderstorm let loose. But she still had the ironing to do. And, uh, yeah, she even ironed the sheets. (sigh) And she still had time (and energy) to do the all the others things which I don't ever seem to find time to do. Baking, cooking (the old fashion way from scratch), hand washing (& drying!) the dishes, cleaning the house, planting and tending the garden, reading for hours every night, and much much more. Including correspondence with dozens of family and friends via the most beautiful hand-written letters sent in the US Mail. That's what a 4th grade education in a one room school house teaches ya I guess. They just don't make 'em like her anymore. It truly was another world. We seldom stop to appreciate what we might be missing. Thanks for the moment.

When I moved back to warm and sunny California one of the first things I did as a kind of celebration was go to the hardware store and pick up a collapsible umbrella pole like you describe. I even used it a few times receiving strange looks from family and neighbors. They just don't understand. Sadly, more often than not I'm in too much of a hurry and don't give myself that luxury. The laundry tree has been sitting un-used against the side of the house for over a year now. Perhaps we'll get together again. I hope you manage better than me. Please write another piece in 9-12 months telling us how you and your clothes line are getting along.

Anonymous said...

Clotheslines are good! However, if you live in a dusty area and the wind blows, or if cars go by on a dirt road, they may not be the best option. Especially if horse crap is blowing in the wind.

Didn't ALGORE want us to get away for our cars and go back to horses?

In the meantime we do not have a horse economy. Everyone should conserve energy. "A penny saved is a penny earned."

Anonymous said...

This should led to the Los Osos town Motto:
Hung Out to Dry

*PG-13 said...

Anon > Everyone should conserve energy. "A penny saved is a penny earned."

Ahhh, one of my most favorite topics. Saving pennies through conservation of energy. A penny saved thru conservation is worth much much more than a penny earned. It's way past time to update these tired old Benjamin Franklin bromides and make them current in today's world. This 'penny saved is a penny earned' idiom refers back to the days when not spending money had the same result as earning money. So to save a penny was the same as earning a penny. Even a bit more if invested wisely. Less earned income tax of course. But this doesn't hold true when you're talking about spending money on energy. Why is it so difficult for the world to grok that a penny saved through conservation is worth nickels, even dimes and sometimes dollars spent buying and consuming a unit of energy? This would be oh so obvious if we paid the real cost of energy. But we don't pay for the real cost of a unit of energy so we continue to blissfully consume as if it really did only cost pennies. Not only is there huge money to be saved by not buying subsidized energy but there is also huge money (and social gain) to be made following the soft energy path. Climb outside the old habitual non-thinking just a bit and you will see that conservation itself is a 'source' of energy. Indeed, the biggest and fastest growing energy source in the country is more productive & efficient use of energy. Eat that Halliburton!

On a parallel track: Speaking of Al Gore, he's laughing all the way to bank. Al Gore, the Business Man. Get over the falsified, mis-quoted & blown all out of proportion brouhaha over his 'invention of the internet' thing. His internet chops are just fine thank you. Him winning the election but losing the presidency may have been a divine intervention for the rest of us. If you haven't already read the now dated May 2006 Wired magazine report on his rebound its worth the effort. That article was written over a year ago. Pre-Oscar(s). This has been a very good year to be Al Gore. His Carbon Neutral investment strategy is doing quite well. It is very good business. As are his pre-IPO Google shares. He's finding a way to make billions and billions of pennies investing in balanced energy positions. (If you're not up for the long read a short radio version is here.)

Churadogs said...

Amazing what wonderful memories you've shared here triggered by a clotheline piece. Friend emailed to recall using pant stretchers for her Dad's slacks. Anybody remember those? I do, annoying adjustable aluminum frames you stuffed into the trouser legs to supposedly stretch out the fabric so it wouldn't wrinkle so badly. And the old wringer/washer. Got my arm caught in the wringer once. Scared hell out of me and my Mom. Much shrieking and terror as the fingers firs then the hand then the whole arm sent smooshing into the wringer before mom could hit the escape lever. (Actually, it was a new-fangled washer with padded rollers and that just opened wide, no damage done, unlike old fashioned hard rollers that would make a hash of you hand if you got it caught.

And interesting post from my friend in Florida. Yep, lots of new housing developments have CC&RS that forbid clotheslines, so, clever Sally, she's got one of those cutting accordian fold-out indoor closthes hangers thingeees. That should work well in a warm climate.

Which is NOT what was described by another reader: Sheets frozen solid. Amazing. However did we survive B.D. (Before dryers?)

And, yes, living in a windy spot with blowing dirt . . . Where I was raised, there were often desert sandstorms and when they blew up, you hustled to get the clothes off the line and brought in.

And as for the poster noting that energy saved, is more than just energy saved. Indeed. If we removed ALL the hidden subsidies we have for energy and applied the TRUE costs (including military and medical and environmental and . . . .) directly to the KW or gas pump, I think we'd be shocked to our core. Suddenly the most expensive solar would start to look reeeeeely cheap.

Meantime, what can I say to my fellow Laundry Line Los Ososians: O Pioneers! Dig out the umbrella pole, grab the clothespin bag and . . . Hang in there!

And thanks for the additional memories!

Anonymous said...


Ahh! I remember when the man of the household worked and the wife stayed home and worked taking care of children and the household. She had time to hang clothes on a closeline and took joy in this. Kids helped and they learned work ethic.

However during the past 20 years, when one works up until May 15th just to pay taxes, it takes two to work at a job other than homemaking just to keep heads above the water.

Time is money. It is far cheaper to put clothes in a dryer than hang them and take them down, unfortunately. How much income is lost by hanging clothes on a clothesline? Shame.

Churadogs said...

Anonymous sez:"Time is money. It is far cheaper to put clothes in a dryer than hang them and take them down, unfortunately. How much income is lost by hanging clothes on a clothesline? Shame."

Now there'd be an interesting study. Since most laundry is done "after working hours," there wouldn't be loss of pay, but it would be interesting to see just how much it "costs" and "saves." Depending on the cost of electricity or gas and the amount of laundry one does every week, I'm sure the amount is small, either way. And, no doubt, dryers are convenient because they allow for a slightly quicker return to multi-tasking (i.e. compare time to hang out clothes vs time to dump in dryer. The time needed to take down and fold from line vs. take out and fold from dryer should be a wash. )On the other hand, dryers give options as to when to do laundry, i.e. 11 pm during a rainy Tuesday night, vs waiting until a clear day, & etc. On the other hand, having a line AND a dryer does have the benefit of options -- hang out on nice days, use dryer during rain, or both: hang out and if not completely dry, toss in dryer to "finish" while using way less energy. Best of both worlds.

Anonymous said...

Ann, we have 3 normal, active children, 7, 5 & 2. We can't afford enough clothes to save up the laundry for a warm day. We both work and if we don't keep up the laundry, we'd have a disaster waiting. Forget the clothes line, our washer and dryer run a load or two everyday. Thank you GE, Sears and Whirlpool engineers and manufacturers!

Anonymous said...

Hey, the LO motto should be:

"Los Osos? we don't know from $hit."

Ron said...

An Anon wrote:

" Forget the clothes line, our washer and dryer run a load or two everyday."

Maybe you could line-dry a load every once and a while, when time and weather permits. Another huge up-side for line-drying is that you don't have to get them out of the dryer the minute the cycle's done. You can just leave them on the line until you're ready to fold... less stress ; - )

An Anon wrote:

"Time is money. It is far cheaper to put clothes in a dryer than hang them and take them down, unfortunately. How much income is lost by hanging clothes on a clothesline? Shame."

And Ann replied:

"Now there'd be an interesting study. Since most laundry is done "after working hours," there wouldn't be loss of pay, but it would be interesting to see just how much it "costs" and "saves."

For me, the energy savings associated with things like line-drying and solar heated hot water, is not so much for the cost savings, it's the "being able to look in the mirror" savings.

I mean, c'mon, we all know what starts wars these days, right? So, if I can find a way to save one more drop, one tiny shred of fossil fuel, I'm going to use it, for conscious reasons. I've never been a big fan of the "if everybody did that" argument, but if everybody did that -- line-dried whenever possible, used solar heated water whenever possible, biked and walked whenever possible, and drove the most fuel efficient vehicle possible -- we would live in a much stronger country, and in a much safer world.

A "Support the Troops" sticker on a Ford Expedition (or Excursion, or whatever the hell those 8 mpg, foreign-oil-suckers are)? Give me a break.

Ruth H said...

I've been hanging out my sheets for 50 years. I have a dryer but I want the smell of the fresh outdoors. I do it not to save the world, just to save my senses. I love the smell when I open my linen closet. We've always lived in a place where we were free to put up a clothesline if we wanted, not in a restricted subdivision where all the houses are alike and clotheslines are not allowed. We now live in a wilderness of live oaks, bay trees and briars. We are close to the Aransas Wildlife refuge and in the winter we hear the whooping cranes whooping it up close by. I wouldn't trade for a mansion in town.

Anonymous said...

You really wouldn't want the "scent of Los Osos" on your sheets.